Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2007 Issue

Business as Unusual: the Frank Streeter Sale

Frank.s

Frank Streeter at his father's sale


By Bruce McKinney

Commencing Monday evening, April 16th, and continuing Tuesday, the 17th, Christies, in New York, orchestrated an immensely successful sale of the Frank S. Streeter Library including important navigation, Pacific voyages, cartography and science. The sale yielded $16,421,820 and dozens of broken hearts. Neither the auction house nor the consignors were among the unhappy. The aggregate low estimate gave hope to all though it turned out three times that number would be the average result: almost $30,000 a lot. As happens from time to time, exceptional material and timing combine with thorough description to produce a perfect storm of bidding. Such was how it was over this auction's three memorable sessions. We were in New York for the run-up and sale and both here (hi) or here (low), and at the end of this article, provide links to a 10 minute film about it. Comparison of material purchased at the Thomas Streeter sales in the late 1960s and resold here, as well as material purchased at the Penrose sale in 1971 and resold here are separately provided at the end of this 1,658 word article.

By our estimate more than a hundred individuals raised their paddles in the room, bid by phone, left order bids to be executed by the house and bid on-line. At the first session we counted 102 hopefuls, well-wishers and curious in the auction room [not including Christie's extensive staff] and in the second session Tuesday morning an ebb and flow crowd of about 85. Even as late as lot 492 in the third and final session 46 remained. Even those who either didn't bid or win seemed happy: a reminder of why book prices are written in pencil.

The occasion was memorable for many reasons. Frank Streeter is the son of Thomas Streeter, one of the most famous American book collectors of the 20th century. The father's collection, 4,421 lots in seven parts was sold by Parke-Bernet in 1966-1969 and brought the then exceptional total of $3,104,982, an amount about equal to the buyer's premium at his son's sale of 552 lots: $2,702,970. Times have changed.

In the late 1960's auction houses primarily sold to dealers and dealers often stepped aside to let their brethren buy advantageously. In his time Thomas Streeter countered this strategy with his own, providing generous stipends to libraries to contend with dealers for material. In doing so he followed the strategy of George Brinley who, in the 19th century, sent his collection of 9,450 lots to auction at Geo. A. Leavitt & Co. in New York while providing funds for bidding to a wide group of institutions.

No such inducements to bid were needed this time. Auction houses now carefully describe, provide help and advice and occasional extended terms. As a result, for great material, auction houses now regularly attract bidders from around the world.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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